Despite being married five times there have been debates and rumours about Bristol-born Cary Grant’s sexuality ever since he became a star in the 1930s. With his debonair manner, comic timing and mid-Atlantic accent he was Hollywood’s definitive leading man for over 30 years. In 1999 he was named second-greatest male star of the Golden Age of Hollywood (after Humphrey Bogart) by the American Film Institute. For ten years on-and-off he lived with tall, handsome, muscular film star Randolph Scott (1898-1987) who some consider to have been the love of his life.
Born Archie Leach at 15 Hughenden Road in the northern Bristol suburb of Horfield in 1904, the family later moved to 5 Seymour Avenue, Bishopston. His father, Elias was an alcoholic tailor and his mother Elsie a seamstress. She suffered from clinical depression and, when Archie was 9, his father committed his mother to Glenside Mental Hospital, Fishponds. Archie was told his mother had gone on a long holiday, and later that she was dead.
Grant attended Fairfield Grammar School, Fairlawn Road 1915-18 but was expelled, reputedly after he had been caught in the girl’s toilets.
At 13 he worked as a lighting assistant at The Empire Theatre, Old Market Street, and briefly as a callboy at the Bristol Hippodrome. After touring UK and the US with an acrobat troupe, he became a stilt walker on the US vaudeville circuit. He first appeared on Broadway in 1927.
In the early 1920s Grant shared a New York loft apartment with the gay Australian Hollywood costume designer Orry-Kelly (1897-1964). In later years Grant told Orry-Kelly to ‘tell them nothing’ about their years together in Greenwich Village. Archie Leach appeared in his first film in 1931, changed his name to Cary Grant and again shared rooms with Orry-Kelly.
Grant met Randolph Scott at Paramount in 1932 and they soon moved in together sharing a house in Hollywood and later a Santa Monica beach house. Rumours about their “bromance” soon began when a journalist claimed the pair were “carrying the buddy business a bit too far”. Grant and Scott made only one film together: My Favourite Wife in 1940.
A 1934 magazine article by gay journalist Ben Maddox appeared with photos of Grant and Scott in swim trunks and working out in the gym. In 1939 Photoplay magazine reported on “The Gay Romance of Cary Grant”, albeit using the word with its original meaning. Whether Grant really had any homosexual feelings or indeed acted on them cannot be proven but he was at ease mixing with gay men in an age where homosexuality was at best frowned upon, if not illegal. It was said “Archie Leach was gay but Cary Grant was straight”.
Fashion critic and journalist Richard Blackwell, then an actor at RKO, and society photographer Jerome Zerbe who took publicity shots of Grant and Scott at their home both claimed to have slept with the pair. Blackwell wrote in his autobiography that Grant and Scott “were deeply, madly in love, their devotion was complete”.
Celebrity biographer Darwin Porter claimed Grant had enduring affairs with Randolph Scott and aviation tycoon and film producer Howard Hughes, and that he also bedded Marlon Brando, Gary Cooper, playwrights Clifford Odets and Moss Hart, and the composer Cole Porter. [Ed: critics have questioned the credibility of some of Porter’s claims]. Gay playwright Arthur Laurents said Grant was “at best bisexual”. Jennifer Grant, Cary’s daughter by his fourth wife Dyan Cannon, is adamant he was not gay.
Grant’s father, Elias Leach, died in 1935. On his deathbed he told his son the truth about his mother. Grant got Elsie out of the asylum, arranged an allowance for her and moved her to a house. Apart from the war years he visited her at least once a year but found her emotional intensity very stressful and their relationship was strained. She died in 1973.
Grant died 29th November 1986 aged 82. Scott died three months later. In December 2001 a bronze statue of Grant by Graham Ibbeson was unveiled in Millennium Square, Bristol.
Perhaps the last word should be left to Cary Grant. Meeting Roy Hudd and Peter Noone, stars of the 1971 Bristol Hippodrome panto “Dick Whittington” backstage, Grant was asked what he thought of the production’s dodgy scenery which looked like “a bent picture”. Enigmatically Grant replied “That’s the story of my life”.
Jonathan Rowe 2023
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Scott Eymon: Cary Grant – A Brilliant Disguise (2020)
Maureen Donaldson: An Affair To Remember – My Life With Cary Grant (1989)
Jennifer Grant: Good Stuff – A Reminiscence Of My Father, Cary Grant (2011)
Gay Influence: Cary Grant & Randolph Scott
Elisa Rolle: Queer Places – Cary Grant
Alan Royle: Cary Grant – The Loves in His Life
Peter Sheridan: Why Cary Grant was happy to be called gay Daily Express 30/4/2011
Pierre Montiel: Legendary Cary Grant. The Early Years section has some interesting photos of Grant’s early life.
What Hollywood film star Cary Grant did in Bristol exactly 50 years ago Bristol Post 18/1/2022.